The widening remit of youth offending teams
The youth justice system is part of the criminal justice system, operating with the offences, procedures and evidential rules established by the criminal law, but, in recent developments, the remit of the system covers young males and females who are not eligible to be in the youth justice system. There are two developments, focusing on the control of ‘sub-criminal’ behaviour, especially ‘anti-social’ behaviour and truanting, or on pre-criminal behaviour, notably preventative schemes. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced civil orders to deal with sub-criminal behaviour, the relevant order for those aged ten and over being the anti-social behaviour order. The criterion for making an anti-social behaviour order (in s 1 of the Act) is one of the criteria in s 11(3) for imposing a child safety order on a child aged under ten: ‘.. . that the person (child) has acted… in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself.’
That these provisions fudge the line between criminal and civil can be seen, for example, in the ‘Executive Summary’ in Every Child Matters. Under the bullet point ‘reforms to the youth justice system’, a brief paragraph begins: ‘The Government intends to revise the Child Safety Order to make it more effective and build on the success of the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme by using it more widely as an alternative to custody.’ This statement evidences child safety orders as part of a discourse of ‘youth justice’, despite the fact that only Family Proceedings Courts can make such an order, and elides in one sentence provisions for under-ten year olds being mentioned in the same sentence as a community programme for offenders over ten years old. This elision reflects the trend of government policy. After the consultation exercise following the publication of Youth Justice – The Next Steps, the government proposed to include preventing anti-social behaviour in the duties of the Youth Justice Board and youth offending teams. Before the general election in May 2005, the government stated that this duty would be included in a subsequent Youth Justice Bill.
Another example of this policy trend is the development of Youth Inclusion Support Panels through the Children’s Fund. This fund is used for projects which target 5- to 13-year-old disadvantaged children and is administered by the Children, Young People and Families Directorate at the DfES. Of this budget, 25 per cent is allocated to preventative projects for children aged 8 to 13 who are seen as most heavily at risk of offending. The government’s aim is that there should be a youth support panel in each youth offending team area. Funding for preventative projects managed by youth offending teams is increasingly provided by crime and disorder reduction partnerships and the government intends to expand by 50 per cent youth inclusion and early intervention projects across England and Wales.
This conflation of risk of offending by boys and girls and risk of harm to them, particularly in the context of the social inclusion-exclusion policy agenda, raises the possibility of early ‘stigmatisation’ of children and their parents and allows for potentially ‘unnecessary’ intervention in families. This may seem far removed from this chapter’s focus on offending girls and their mothers, but what these developments signify is that more girls, as well as boys, are being drawn into an increasingly important system in which the risk of offending normally takes priority over the risk of harm, or the latter risk is subsumed in the former. Further, there is evidence that the risks of engaging in offending are different for boys and girls in a way that might mean that those parents, particularly lone-mother parents, living in poverty may be more at risk of having their children’s behaviour scrutinised.
The current focus in policy and research is on isolating factors correlated with risk of offending and desistance from offending. Farrington and Painter have recently conducted research on gender differences in this respect, using brothers and sisters. This research found that the most important factors for offending and frequent offending were similar for brothers and sisters, but that ‘risk factors predicted offending by sisters more strongly than offending by brothers’. The example they give is of the influence of the factor of low family income on early – onset offending, where the proportion of sisters who were convicted increased from 1 per cent to 11 per cent according to the absence or presence of this factor, whereas for their brothers the increase was from 14 per cent to 33 per cent. After controlling for other risk factors, ‘the partial odds ratios were 15.5 for sisters and 2.1 for brothers’. They also found that socio-economic and child-rearing factors were more important in predicting offending of sisters, whilst parenting-related factors were more important for brothers. Farrington and Painter use their conclusions to note the cost-effectiveness implications of focusing preventative interventions on those risk factors which are most – and also differentially – influential on girls and boys respectively.
This focus on risk assessment may, therefore, impact differentially on girls and boys and also on mothers and fathers, whilst the colonisation by crime prevention agencies of work and funding for children’s services aimed at prevention of offending might mean that other aspects of the child’s life and welfare are obscured, including those where gender issues are potentially significant. Further, it means girls – whether or not they have offended – are being drawn into a system in which the ‘child as youth’ is the dominant concept.